Training on Working Memory and Inhibitory Control in Young Adults

Front Hum Neurosci. 2016 Nov 18:10:588. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2016.00588. eCollection 2016.


Different types of interventions have focused on trying to improve Executive Functions (EFs) due to their essential role in human cognition and behavior regulation. Although EFs are thought to be diverse, most training studies have targeted cognitive processes related to working memory (WM), and fewer have focused on training other control mechanisms, such as inhibitory control (IC). In the present study, we aimed to investigate the differential impact of training WM and IC as compared with control conditions performing non-executive control activities. Young adults were divided into two training (WM/IC) and two (active/passive) control conditions. Over six sessions, the training groups engaged in three different computer-based adaptive activities (WM or IC), whereas the active control group completed a program with low control-demanding activities that mainly involved processing speed. In addition, motivation and engagement were monitored through the training. The WM-training activities required maintenance, updating and memory search processes, while those from the IC group engaged response inhibition and interference control. All participants were pre- and post-tested in criterion tasks (n-back and Stroop), near transfer measures of WM (Operation Span) and IC (Stop-Signal). Non-trained far transfer outcome measures included an abstract reasoning test (Raven's Advanced Progressive Matrices) and a well-validated experimental task (AX-CPT) that provides indices of cognitive flexibility considering proactive/reactive control. Training results revealed that strongly motivated participants reached higher levels of training improvements. Regarding transfer effects, results showed specific patterns of near transfer effects depending on the type of training. Interestingly, it was only the IC training group that showed far transfer to reasoning. Finally, all trained participants showed a shift toward a more proactive mode of cognitive control, highlighting a general effect of training on cognitive flexibility. The present results reveal specific and general modulations of executive control mechanisms after brief training intervention targeting either WM or IC.

Keywords: cognitive training; executive control; inhibitory control; plasticity; transfer; working memory.